11/19/2013 12:57PM

Dick Jerardi: Penn National sees handle increase with unique pick four bet with Belmont Park

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Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Eighttofasttocatch is the second horse to win three consecutive runnings of the Jennings Handicap.

The Penn National-Belmont Park Thursday 50-cent pick four (15 percent takeout) experiment went from Sept. 12 to Oct. 24. Nobody really knew what to expect, but Penn National officials were hoping there would be benefits beyond the pick four itself. The bet, which included the last two races at Belmont Park and the first two at Penn National, averaged $42,393. That, however, was not the story.

Average handle on the Penn races for the seven Thursdays of the wager was $1,303,787, a 31.5 percent increase from average handle of $991,344 on those same seven Thursdays in 2012. They clearly got more bettors interested in betting on the Penn races.

Dan Silver, Penn’s director of racing operations, said he hoped this would be the first of many wagers his track would do with other tracks. The 15 percent takeout on the pick four was a terrific marketing tool. That it got bettors interested was obvious by the handle numbers.

The first day was actually the best day. The pick four pool on Sept. 12 was $59,000. The Penn handle was $1,416,372, a 75.2 percent increase over the $808,298 from the same Thursday in 2012.

Those numbers should give track executives something to think about. Bettors like multi-race bets with low takeouts and small minimums. Betting on horse racing is attractive for various reasons, but none more than the opportunity to risk a little bit of money with the chance of winning a lot. And if you can entice bettors with a wager that gives them that chance, why wouldn’t they look at your product?

I spoke with Silver about the bet back in September. He was thinking long term even then.

“Part of the importance of a wager like this was showing that tracks can work together to try and give the bettors a new and unique opportunity,” Silver said at the time. “I think exciting possibilities could come of that down the road across multiple different time zones and tracks. Sometimes, things can get somewhat stale and our industry gets accused of not offering up new types of things.”

This pick four was new. It also may provide a road map to the future.

Still too fast to catch

Two major Maryland-bred stars were entered in Laurel Park’s four $100,000 stakes last Saturday. Ben’s Cat scratched from the Dave’s Friend to await the Fall Highweight at Aqueduct or the Fabulous Strike at Penn National. Eighttofasttocatch did not scratch from the Jennings Handicap.

The amazing 7-year-old Not For Love gelding, who made his debut on Oct. 25, 2008, is just about impossible to beat when he gets a clear lead at Laurel Park, his favorite track. Eighttofasttocatch got a clear lead and none of the others ever got close as he won the Jennings for the third consecutive year.

The great Little Bold John is the only other horse to win the Jennings three straight years (1987 to 1989).

“I don’t want to sound overconfident, but it was a nice race,” said Tim Keefe, Eighttofasttocatch’s trainer. “He’s very good right now. I’m most proud that he’s maintaining at this level. He has no problem with a mile and a mile and an eighth. I’m flattered that he’s mentioned in the same sentence with Little Bold John.”

It was the ninth stakes win for Eighttfasttocatch who won the 2011 and 2013 Maryland Million Classic and has career earnings of $854,585. The horse has won 14 races, 12 where he trains at Laurel Park.

Lucy’s Bob Boy bounces back

Lucy’s Bob Boy ran so poorly (ninth) in the Oct. 19 West Virginia Breeders’ Classic at Charles Town that it really did not make sense. Racing in last Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile A Huevo Stakes, the West Virginia-bred was back to his normal form, winning by 8 3/4 lengths and earning a 95 Beyer Speed Figure. The horse has raced 20 times at Charles Town and won 16.

Carmouche on top again at Parx

Kendrick Carmouche had won four consecutive riding titles at Parx Racing until abdicating the throne last year because he rode out of town so much. He was neck and neck with John Bisono most of this year until pulling away in recent weeks. Carmouche plans to head to Gulfstream Park in a few weeks to ride the winter meet there. He should be far enough in front to win another Parx title, even while missing the final few weeks of the meet.